Articles by JCS

Yellow Journalism

Misbehaving in the Media

Zakaria, Lehrer,

and now Dr. Gupta?

By

JCS

Shocking news emerged recently about two nationally renowned writers who were accused of plagiarism—Fareed Zakaria, TIME editor-at-large and CNN host, and Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine: How Creativity Works and my favorite read this summer.

Fareed Zakaria was suspended after admitting to lifting parts of another story written by an author in the New Yorker. “I made a terrible mistake. It is a serious lapse and one that is entirely my fault. I apologize unreservedly to her, to my editors at TIME, and to my readers."[1]

In his new book Jonah Lehrer was embarrassed by fabricated quotes attributed to folk singer Bob Dylan and, inexplicably, accused of self-plagiarism by the reuse of his own work.[2]

Actually, I found his story about Dylan was insignificant to the gist of his enlightening book. Indeed, who really cares today what a burnt out old hippie folk singer has to say, anyway? And how does one plagiarize himself?

I can understand the furor over Fareed’s plagiarism by using another writer’s work without attribution. Anyone in journalism knows it’s a cardinal sin to lift ideas and words from another writer without citation. When it involves a heralded TIME and CNN reporter like him, however, it quickly became an ethical lapse with huge consequences to his trusted reputation as an international reporter.

The problems of Fareed and Lehrer are no larger than a new form of yellow journalism dubbed “professional amnesia” by Anthony Rosner, PhD, and a condition that afflicts those journalists who mysteriously forget important facts.[3] Perhaps I should also include those journalists whose political-correctness makes them omit important news.

A most notable example of professional amnesia occurred on April 19, 2007 in testimony to Congress when  US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales stated at least 71 times that he couldn't recall events related to the process how he fired and selected new US attorneys.[4]

Like most people who were amazed at Gonzales’ failing memory, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) confessed to him at the hearing, “Well, I guess I'm concerned about your recollection, really, because it's not that long ago.”[5] We all wondered how someone so smart could be so forgetful; perhaps early Alzheimer’s?

I daresay this affliction can be attributed to other officials who suddenly forget the truth, including CNN’s chief medical reporter Sanjay Gupta, MD. His amnesia stems from a 22-year old issue originating from his resident Emory University, but one Dr. Gupta has yet to mention to his viewers.

This issue began in 1990 when Scott Boden, MD, director of the Emory Orthopaedic and Spine Center in Atlanta, began a revelation in spine care with his seminal MRI research suggesting there was no clear correlation between disc abnormalities and back pain.[6] 

Of course, the Disc Theory had been the mainstay of spine fusion since 1934 and has made billions of dollars for spine surgeons despite its questionable results. Medical researchers now consider abnormal discs to be “trivial, harmless, and irrelevant,” to the point of labeling them “incidentalomas” since MRI studies have shown many people without back pain have abnormal discs.[7]

His failure to acknowledge the debunked disc theory is particularly paradoxical considering both Dr. Gupta and Dr. Boden work at Emory University. Certainly Dr. Gupta is aware of Dr. Boden’s “incidentalomas” research, yet as CNN’s medical correspondent, he has never informed his viewers of this monumental discovery that occurred 22 years ago at his own university.

The insurance industry has recently taken note of this evidence although Dr. Gupta has yet to mention this issue on air at CNN. In January, 2011, a policy change by the North Carolina Blue Cross Blue Shield shocked the spine surgery industry when it said it would not pay for spinal fusion if the sole indication is disc degeneration or herniation since these are present in asymptomatic patients, too.[8]

Despite these huge events, still there has been no mention of this policy change by Dr. Gupta, who happens to be a neurosurgeon himself. Undoubtedly his admission that the disc theory is dead would undermine the income of thousands of spine surgeons and perhaps make him a very unpopular attendee at the next North American Spine Society convention.

At the worst, Gupta may be accused of a conflict of interest and perpetrating a cover-up or, at the least, suffering from “professional amnesia” for his failure to mention the debunked disc theory, the over-use of spine surgery, or the ascendancy of chiropractic care in this back pain epidemic. 

Instead of reporting the changing paradigm in spine diagnosis and treatment away from the disc theory and spine surgery, Dr. Gupta used his journalistic power to lie to the public about the alleged danger of chiropractic manipulation in his video:

Stroke after chiropractic care  June 25, 2008, ‘Hundreds of people have had strokes after having their necks manipulated.’ Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports.”

 I wrote to Dr. Gupta complaining about his misleading video segment. Here is an excerpt of my letter:

This statement belies the facts. A recent study from England, “Deaths After Chiropractic: A Review Of Published Cases,” by Edzard Ernst of the Medical School at the University of Exeter, once again raised the level of fear over chiropractic care when he noted that “Twenty-six fatalities were published since 1934 in 23 articles.”[9]

Considering this covers 76 years and equates to 0.34 deaths per year, instead of sounding an alarm as Ernst attempted, he and you, Dr. Gupta, should have praised chiropractic care for its obvious safety since this is an extremely low rate in comparison with equivalent medical methods of drugs, shots, and surgery for the same diagnostic condition.

Obviously a medical bias occurs when the truth is twisted to scare patients from seeking chiropractic care. This conundrum presents a huge PR problem for my profession. On one hand, we offer a valuable service that could greatly alleviate the present back pain epidemic and stave off many fusions but, on the other hand, the soiled image of chiropractic from decades of medical bias has tainted my profession in the eyes of many patients.

I never received a reply from Dr. Gupta, so I wrote again on May 6, 2011 to him and his producer, Val Willingham. I urged them to examine the paradigm shift in spine care and to consider a weekly show on CAM since Dr. David Eisenberg from Harvard’s Osher Institute that revealed more Americans made more visits to complementary and alternative (CAM) providers than MDs. [10] 

When neither of them responded to my pleas, I sent another letter to Richard Davis, CNN EVP concerning the Fairness Doctrine, to which I’ve also never had a response.

Once again I received no meaningful response to my letters. It appears CNN is not interested in pursuing the possible impact of chiropractic care upon the back pain epidemic, the changing paradigm in spine diagnosis or treatments, Dr. Gupta’s omissions, or the fact that Americans are seeking non-MD care by the droves.

Indeed, it appears there is an embargo against chiropractic at CNN considering chiropractic is the 3rd largest physician-level health profession in the country as well as considering Life University is in CNN’s backyard.

Perhaps the legacy of Big $id still lingers on at CNN, but after ten years, methinks it’s past time for the media in Atlanta to get over it. Considering there has been no mention of Life U’s fourth place finish in the national Super Seven Collegiate Rugby Championships or the fact that both Sidney Crosby and Peyton Manning have been helped at Life, this amnesia or boycott of all things chiropractic is nothing less than yellow journalism.

Imagine the hundreds of thousands of unnecessary back surgeries that might have been avoided if Gupta had warned unsuspecting patients when Boden’s research first appeared in 1990. It would be a caring gesture for Dr. Gupta to be truthful about these fundamental changes in spine care to help people suffering from chronic back pain, but apparently his allegiance to the outdated disc theory and spine fusions is too ingrained.

If Fareed Zakaria and Jonah Lehrer are to be ostracized for their journalistic indiscretions, I believe Dr. Gupta should also be transparent about his professional amnesia, conflict of interest, and his cover-up of this important research that could save both suffering for millions of people and billions of dollars in unnecessary spine surgery.

JC Smith, MA, DC, is a 33-year chiropractic practitioner, author, and founder of www.chiropractorsforfairjournalism.info

 



[1] Jack Mirkinson and Rebecca Shapiro, Fareed Zakaria Suspended For Plagiarism: Time Editor, CNN Host Apologizes For 'Terrible Mistake', The Huffington Post, 08/10/2012.

[2] Schuessler, Jennifer (June 20, 2012). "Lehrer Apologizes for Recycling Work, While New Yorker Says It Won't Happen Again". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 June 2012.

[3] A Rosner, “Evidence or Eminence-Based Medicine? Leveling the Playing Field Instead of the Patient,” Dynamic Chiropractic, 20/25 (November 30, 2002)

[4] Johnson, Kevin (April 20, 2007). "Gonzales seeks GOP support". USA Today.

[5] CQ Transcripts Wire (April 19, 2007). "Gonzales Testifies Before Senate Panel, Part II". The Washington Post.

[6] SD Boden, DO Davis, TS Dina, NJ Patronas, SW Wiesel, “Abnormal Magnetic-Resonance Scans of the Lumbar Spine in Asymptomatic Subjects: A Prospective Investigation,” J Bone Joint Surg Am. 72 (1990):403–408.

[7] Richard Deyo, MD, MPH and Donald Patrick, PhD, MSPH, Hope or Hype, The obsession with medical advances and the high costs of false promises. 2005 AMACOM books.

[9] E Ernst “Deaths After Chiropractic: A Review Of Published Cases,” Int J Clin Pract, 64/8 (July 2010):1162–1165

[10] DM Eisenberg, RC Kessler, C Foster, FE Norlock, DR Calkins, TL Delbanco, “Unconventional  Medicine In The United States--Prevalence, Costs, And Patterns Of Use,” N Engl J Med 328 (1993):246-252.

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